Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Big Purge

The last time I had a stable residence in which I had all of my possessions under the same roof was the apartment I rented across from Irving Park in North East Portland from 2001 through 2007. I’d done somewhat of a purge when I moved into that apartment, but I still had unopened boxes when I left in January of 2007 to go back to school in Pullman, Washington.

My crib in Pullman was a spacious three-room apartment in the Pullman old folks home, the only fully accessible option in the greater Pullman metroplex. My neighbors were in their 70s and 80s and my classmates were in their early 20s. I tended to see more of my classmates than my neighbors as I lived across the street from Dissmore’s IGA, rumored to be the largest beer vender in Eastern Washington. I had plenty of room for visitors, but even after receiving numerous threats from my friends in Portland to come over for a football weekend, I received a total of four visitors during the 30-month period – My Mom, my Dad, my Sister and my friend Pat who randomly stopped in from Paris.

Filling these shelves with beer was nothing short of printing money. 

Seeing as I was in school I accumulated even more junk including books, clothes, some new furniture, and a slew of computer gadgets. Now this was nothing compared to the crap I accumulated when I owned a house and was a member of the American middle class, but it was much more junk than a single dude should be hauling around.

After graduation in Pullman I piled my junk into an empty U-Haul truck that randomly was being driven from Wisconsin to Corvallis by my friend Mary. Mary’s mother had died and she rented the U-Haul to gather up things left to her in Wisconsin and haul them back to Corvallis which, oddly enough was my next stop. When she saw what was in Wisconsin she opted only for a couch which left me with an empty truck to fill up – which I did.

My sister and I drove to Pullman in a van like this on icy streets in the dead of winter. Very happy this was not the result, but it could have been!

The next stop on the limbo-lifestyle tour was my sister Sue’s house in Corvallis, which is already full of other people’s stuff and had little room for my collection. Sue rented a storage unit outside of town and all of my junk got stuffed in there for nearly two years. During this time I went from a bright-eyed prospective journalism graduate to a cliché of the depressed,  early 21st Century American jobless graduate.

After a full year of sending out resumes, getting no interviews and feeling my skill set evaporate w/every passing minute, I decided to leave the country and help a radio station in India get off its’ feet. This meant, more packing, sorting and storing. My collection of boxes was well over a dozen and that didn’t include a slew of guitars, amps and framed posters. I’d also filled up a closet with nice shirts I’d received over the past few years - assuming I was at some point going to rejoin the American middle class.

Off I went to India where I did NOT accumulate a ton of stuff. Instead I returned this time to Portland where I was able to actually unload my sister of much of her burden – although she still held on to a room full of my clothes and a bunch of boxes of old pictures and books.

Two years after finding little work, but instead a fabulous French babe, it was time to move on. But this time the madness had to come to an end. I had possessions I hadn’t seen in seven years, so what was the point of me hanging on to them? Time had come for the BIG PURGE.

After I’d moved out of my apartment in Portland I’d staged 20 boxes of possessions in my sister’s garage and promised her I would thin the herd. The BIG PURGE came in several stages. First I packed a bag for the winter in France which put some clothes in the starting lineup. Once that bag was finalized, I optimistically went through my better pairs of pants and shirts and set them aside still holding onto the idea that I will actually at one point become a member of the American middle class – or even the French Middle Class, but something better than a depressed job seeker.

Seeing as I’ve got a workout habit, I’ve accumulated boxes of T-shirts and sweat pants that had been in and out of the lineup for more than 15 years. For women, this is just a no-brainer: You pitch all that crap out. For men, this things are signs of our perceived athletic glory and ridding ourselves of them is a most horrid reminder of aging. Yeah, I’m fully aware that nobody cares that I finished the 1998 Hood to Coast Relay. But what if there’s a party with my old Hood to Coast team? Wouldn’t it be great if I showed up in the old team T? I was almost tempted to hang on to them until I pulled one of them over my head and realized that 15 years of hand cycling has completely changed my body. This T would never again grace my shoulders. And neither would the dozens of Grateful Dead Ts I’d hauled around with me since the early 80s… or the stack of Tour de France shirts I’ve been compiling from the LeMond era through the Armstrong debacle.

Pretty much my wardrobe over the past 30 years. 
And thus began the Goodwill pile. Unless the shirt was a fairly new wicking-fabric shirt, it went into the pile. Women will cower over this, but in fact, that eliminated three full boxes.Next was the mountain of really nice shirts I’d had very few occasions to wear. Again, many of these shirts had been in my various closets since before I broke my back. These shirts were much more valuable to other people, but carried none of the emotional weight of the Ts. Another couple of boxes easily into the Goodwill pile.

I’ve been on the Portland Marathon committee since 2000 and that committee just rocks when it comes to SWAG. Every year we get LOTS of great quality coats, bags, hats and polos. Another box into the pile. I’ve got doubles, triples and even quadruples on sweaters, sweatshirts and spring  jackets. Gone, gone and gone.

Plates, silverware, kitchen gadgets, obsolete computer hardware and adjoining cords. Signed, sealed and delivered into the back of my van.

Finally it was time to look into my library which I have been compiling since I first graduated from college in 1985. I didn’t own a TV for quite a long time as I was traveling for nearly seven years non-stop. I’m not a ‘No-TV’ guy. I watch too much of the shit. It’s just that during that time I rarely lived in a place where there was any English television so I read tons of books. And I kept them all. Unless the book was a piece of junk, I kept it because I assumed I’d use it for reference at some point. I love reading biographies and history so I thought I’d love to be able to pull out a book from my library and prove a point in an argument.

Unawares to my growing book collection, however, Gore invented the Internet and my assemblage lost most of its cache. Those books remained in the boxes because I never went back to them to check a fact. I’m always on the Google.

So with a very fond farewell, I took a peek at every last book in my library and sent nearly all of them back into the world to enrich the lives of others. This process took a full day but I got to say good bye to Alan Ginsberg, JFK, Miles Davis, Phil Lesh, Hank Aaron, Nike, Freud, Einstein, Gore Vidal, Ravi Shankar, The Battle of the Bulge, Kerouac & Kesey, 10 journeys with Michener, Townshend, Clapton; Funk & Blues. I had a full box of music books which are now obsolete. I had two shelves of travel and language books that no longer are worth porting around.

Before I knew it I’d hauled three van-loads of my former life to various repositories in downtown Corvallis. All that remained were my instruments, old pictures, a box of little statues I've collected from all over the world, the framed posters and just one dresser full of clothes. It’s now been two months since the big purge and I miss exactly zero of those items. The thought that I won’t be hauling three van-loads of junk to my next living space more than offsets any pangs of nostalgia. So if you have any misgivings at all about holding on to old items, SET THEM FREE I say!

(OK if you go into my sister’s house you may just stumble upon some older Packer, Illinois, Grateful Dead and Tour de France shirts… but I ran out of boxes. I swear!!)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Don't They Know They're Smarter Than Me?

With the French visa situation deteriorating, and the week of music in the rear-view mirror, it was time to depart on Leg II of the voyage. I was off for a ten-day stint in Ann Arbor, Michigan teaching disability issues to medical students at my most hated rival institution, the University of Michigan.

Being a devout member of the Tribe of Illini, I was weighing my allegiance against the greater good of departing useful information to enhance the quality of education at a school that I have sworn an oath to defeat at all costs. In the end, I decided to play it straight and give them proper instruction, lest they attack the sterling reputation of the University of Illinois (Or Illinoise as Lou Holtz calls us).

This is where my hatred for the University of Michigan began. 

The invitation came at the behest of Dr. Andrew J. Haig who also happens to be my brother. The medical students are required to take several short seminars on various topics to fill out some basic requirements. Our course was called Physical and Mental Disability:  Around the World and in Our Backyard.  To bolster our course, we were joined by Dr. Karla Blackwood, an emergency psychiatrist from South Central L.A. Karla is one of the most incredible people I’ve ever come across. A single mom in her 30’s Karla busted out of one of the worst school systems in America and made it through Michigan’s rigorous medical school to become both a faculty member and practicing physician. Although quite soft spoken, she is absurdly competent and thorough, letting her preparation and experience speak as loud as a bull horn.

Brother Andy has been on the faculty at Michigan going on two decades and as North American Vice President of the International Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine he is a global leader in Physiatry. People are often confused with the term ‘Physiatry’ (doesn’t even spell check!),  a relatively new field of medicine started by FDR’s personal physician Dr. Howard Rusk. Physiatry, or Rehabilitation Medicine, is what goes on after a surgeon does their work. Often times the surgeon is great at cutting and sewing, but unschooled in the science of getting people back to form. That’s where the physiatrist comes in. Rusk is one of the great unsung heroes in American history. He convinced FDR to establish rehab centers for wounded soldiers in WWII giving them proper care and enough time to heal before sending them back to battle. No other army had ever used this practice so when our soldiers went back to the front they were far healthier than their German counterparts.

Dr. Howard Rusk in Life Magazine. 

Rounding out the field was yours truly. Although I know didly-squat about medicine, I have lectured all over the country on disability issues and have the nasty advantage of actually needing disability codes and laws.
We had one class of five students and another of nine students. Each class had three, two-hour sessions over the course of seven days. Each one of us did the heavy lifting for a day while the other two would toss in expert commentary and answer questions on our day off.  

Karla led off the series with an in-depth description of mental disability, using real-world examples from her practice. This covered the entire gambit from schizophrenia, to depression, to post-traumatic stress disorder. Although all her cases were quite compelling, the most dramatic story was the case of a Sudanese refugee who had escaped her brutally abusive husband and made it to America, only to be trapped in the lurid world of international sex trafficking. It was unclear how she got to America or what she was doing in Michigan, but her nearly constant mental and physical abuse had brought her to Karla’s office. She was at risk of deportation and Karla was called on by the State of Michigan to testify on her PTSD and that she was, in fact, in danger of her life if she were to return to her home country. She also had a young daughter who had just entered into the local school system. The woman was almost completely isolated and friendless having little English and nearly no social interaction at all. It was a harrowing scenario that yielded dropped jaws from both students and faculty. The case is still in the hands of a judge.

I took the stage on Day 2 and gave a two-part presentation. Part I was a definition and description of various forms of physical disability. When people hear about physical disability they immediately think of wheelchairs, but those are just the most visible cases. Blind persons, deaf persons, the elderly and others all need some kind of legal protections to insure they can fully participate in society.

Read and memorize. There will be a test. 
Part of this discussion is the annoying topic of 'Appropriate Language', or how to address people with disabilities. As you can tell by the name of my blog, I HATE the PC terms that are used to describe people with disabilities. It's called 'People First' language and it is a huge waste time. The gist of it is that you are to address the person, not the disability. Therefore I am a 'person with paraplegia' not a 'paraplegic'. This kind of crap tends to freeze up people because they don't know how to properly phrase things. Can you say, "I have a blind friend." Or do you have to say, "My friend is blind." Either way, the guy can't see and I don't know why people are so caught up with this. But they are. There's even a movement out there now that claims the term 'handciap' is offensive. The proper term, 'disabled' is twice as offensive. I'm not disabled, I'm handicapped. I am 'able' - it just takes me extra time. 

Rarely do you find me agreeing with conservatives, but on this PC crap, I'm with them all the way. 

Part II was a bio piece explaining how I got in the chair, what it was like to endure the initial shock and the steps I’ve taken to regain as much as possible of my former life. The session ended with a slide show of various devices used for transportation of the disabled all over the world. If this trips your trigger, take a peek at the PowerPoint presentation   (40 megs).

With my job officially done it was time to relax a bit so Andy and I headed off for an open jam at the famous Tap Room in Ypsilanti. I was packing my axe from the Charlottesville gig and got to play a set with a local blues trio. We kicked out Steve Martin’s King Tut, All Along the Watchtower and a ZZ Top cover (can’t remember which one, they’re all the same anyway). I have now performed in the two most famous cities starting with Yp. Ypsilanti and Ypres, Belgium. I’m guessing I’m on the short list for that double.

Ya gotta stop for a sign like that right? 

Finally Andy had his day in the sun where he gave a rundown of the dos and donts of climbing the ladder in the rehab medicine world. He pulled quite a bit of info from his stint as a teacher in the business school and gave a great clinic on brainstorming and thinking out of the box. He made the students jump out of their comfort zone and stretch their concept of what being a doctor is all about. They all say they want to become doctors because they want to help people, but figuring out just how that’s going to take shape is never easy.

But at the end, we were no longer in control of the group. It was up to them to fill out evaluations and critique the content as well as our presentations. Being the dumbest person in the room I was pretty nervous over what these over-achieving type-A med school gunners had to say. I wasn’t sure if it was a waste of their time or were they actually gaining valuable knowledge.

The results were surprisingly positive. Had I been talking to practicing physicians it would have been a yawner, but these students had had very little interaction with disabled persons. Karla’s stories were mesmerizing and Andy spun them right out of their comfort zone into a new, more confident appreciation of their future. One thing we decided we needed to do was have one big class instead of the two small classes. The topics were fairly emotionally charged and we felt we short-changed the second group on added discussions.

But what the hell, they're just Wolverines anyway. 

With the course in the books, it was time to pack up and head back to Oregon. I had three short weeks to load my life into a few bags and head off for the Alps. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Watching the Packers – Jetsons Style!

When I tell people that I’ve spent lots of time abroad they always ask me if it’s hard living so far from my family and friends for so long. In the past, before the age of the Internet, this was a tough reality of living abroad. I would go months on end w/out word from anyone.

At one point I was on tour in the United Arab Emirates and I had no fixed address for four straight months. I was also flat broke and my company screwed up the contract with our host organization leaving me penniless for the first four weeks of the stay. I had enough money for a couple of stamps so I wrote home, but my parents had no way to communicate with me at all. This period crossed over both Christmas and my birthday so I never felt more alone.

The only touchstone I had came from Armed Forces Radio. I was on a supply run in a taxi and the cabbie, a Philippine expat, told me he knew of a great station that played Western rock. He turned to AFRTS and much to my surprise, I was treated to none other than Jerome Garcia singing Touch of Gray. This was doubly surprising because, at this point, the Grateful Dead weren’t even played on American radio, let alone Abu Dhabi radio.  When Garcia blasted into the final chorus, “WE WILL GET BY!” I screamed it at the top of my voice with the cabbie manically smiling ear to ear. Them Philipinos likes 'em some crazy white boys. 

In Abu Dhabi, this guy had more spirit than I did. 

Now things couldn’t be more different. I live with two spiffy computers that can dial up any tune I want just for asking. I spend most of my waking hours on line communicating with not only with my family, but also my friends in Oregon, my friends in Dharamsala,  former business associates, drunks whom I’ve met in my neighborhood and even the children of drunks whom I’ve met in my neighborhood. It feels like I live in a weird neighborhood outside of Portland that my friends don’t know exist or else they’d come and party with me.

Just when I thought connectivity couldn’t get more ridiculous, in came the NFL playoffs. I’m guessing there might be some way to buy an NFL package in France, but it can’t be cheap, and I actually have more interesting things to do these days than watch every NFL game – which is what I do in Portland. But the Packers were on a damn fine run and one thing I NEVER miss is a Packer’s game.

The scene at Seraveza, my home Packers bar in Portland
(photo: Corky Helmer)
Over the last few games of the regular season, my Dad and my sister Sue had been Skyping games direct or recording the late night games for later playback. But this game was a huge monster play-off game and I knew everyone in the family would be watching. I come from a family replete with Internet Geeks so the challenge to get us all on line watching the game was too much to pass up.

My brother Bagus in Denver just happens to be a pioneer of the Internet, designing some of the very first commercial sites in the history of digitalia. He was selected as the hub for this operation as he has a phat-ass connection, multiple computers and a huge flat screen. Brother Andy in Ann  Arbor Michigan bought the Skype video conference package a few months earlier so we could organize a medical conference in Bangladesh having doctors from 5 different countries communicating on the same feed. Our goals weren’t as lofty this time, but actually more difficult. Bagus hooked into Andy’s account in Denver and the madness was underway.

I had gotten home from dinner with a neighbor just before 11 p.m. and tried to get a couple of hours sleep before kickoff at 2 a.m. Aix Les Bains time. With one playoff game already underway, sleep was a fruitless effort so around 12:30 I uncorked a bottle of 2010 Crozes-Hermitage and opened up both of the laptops at my disposal. Computer No. 1 was hooked up to FaceBook and the GameCast on ESPN.com while Computer No. 2, a spiffy new Samsung with a 19-inch HD screen would do the heavy lifting on Skype.

I pinged Bagus in Denver and we calmly watched the 4th quarter of the Denver v. Baltimore game preparing for the onslaught of screens anticipated for the Packers game. He pointed one of his laptops at the flat screen and the other at him sitting comfortably in his living room with 7-year-old Tucker sharing the couch.

As game time approached, Andy pinged in from Ann Arbor and he pointed his laptop at his TV so I had split screen of the Denver game and the Packer Pre-game. It was 2 a.m. my time and I can guarantee you I was the only guy in Aix Les Bains watching split-screen NFL playoffs.  Bagus decided to reboot his operation and send out a general conference request to everyone in our family. At this point I had four screens operating on the Samsung, but we were just beginning.

Top:  Me in Aix Les Bains, Charlottesville feed , Sue in Corvallis
Bottom: Tashi in Charlottesville, Denver feed, Bagus in Denver, Barb being pinged in Milwaukee, Ann Arbor feed, William in Vermont, Molly at Yale, six people in Door County Wisconsin trying to get back in.
(Photo: Tashi Haig) 
In just seconds Andy’s two kids, Molly, a sophomore at Yale, and William an 8th grader at a Cross Country Ski school in Vermont joined in. Screens No. 5 and 6. The ball was kicked off and we were on our way. Just a few minutes into the first quarter, another screen popped up, this one from Brother Dan in Charlottesville, Virginia. Screen No. 7, but with his daughter Tashi and wife Zoe hovering in the background we were now up to nine in our party. This oddly resembles what happens when we are all home over Christmas to watch a Packer game. I’m usually sitting in the family room with one or two people and everyone else mingles in.

Before long, William, not a football fan and in the middle of two days of Cross Country ski racing, decided to call it quits. We’d lost one screen, but not two minutes later, Andy got a call from Sister Sue in Corvallis who wanted in on the action. While Bagus scurried to add her to the conference, more requests came in. On Kangaroo Lake in Door County, Wisconsin, my Mother, Father, Sister Nari, and her two kids, Megan and Kelly were ringing on the virtual doorbell to enter in.

Andy is chomping on cheese, I'm slugging Crozet and Molly's actually being productive.
(Photo: Tashi Haig)

So we’d lost one screen, but in a quick hurry we’d picked up two more screens as well as six more participants. The Packers were playing horribly at this point, but unbelievably that didn’t seem to matter. We just wanted more screens.

But with eight nodes of varying connectivity power, we began to reach our limit. Screen’s were freezing up and audio was randomly dropping out. Everyone in the States could watch on their TV, but when the signal from Bagus or Andy dropped out, I was out of the loop. We also had the problem of broadcast delay. Dan’s TV in rural Virginia receives a digital signal over the air and he was more than 20 seconds ahead of the action on the main screen in Denver. That meant that he was screaming and booing a full play ahead of the rest of us. This got quite annoying so we asked him to point his laptop at his TV so we could all get the earliest feed. This prompted Tashi, sitting right next to him, to get her laptop and join in the party so they could do double computer duty (screen No. 9 on my Skype window).

It sounded like a great solution, but as it turns out Dan’s WiFi works great on his couch, not so great perched on a table in front of his TV. So the main screen kept freezing on us. At this point we were at nine screens and 15 people (Bagus’s friend, Tommy came in to watch in Denver) with the Packers looking horrible. But we weren’t about to quit.

The view on the flat screen in Door County, Wisconsin.
(Photo: Nari Haig)

While this was going on,  our final sister Barb (who watches most every Packer game), was at a play in Milwaukee with her Droid buzzing out of her pocket every time anyone of us would enter the conference or reboot our Skype. It would have been easy to give it up at halftime and reboot the entire system except that Tucker in Denver decided he wanted to show us his Christmas presents and that took us into the third quarter.

From time to time, my screen froze and I would have to reboot which gave me time to check out what was happening on Facebook. There I had contact with anyone I've ever known who was watching the game. I was exchanging trash talk and pleasantries with people from Hawaii, Portland, New Orleans, Seattle,  Pullman, Washington (Go Cougs!), Chicago (Go Illini! [Bears still suck!]), Colorado Springs, New York, Madison and Cleveland. Oddly enough, none of my French friends were on line? 

Into the second half we went with screens freezing, people coming and going and the Pack giving up a ridiculous amount of rushing yardage to an unheralded rookie quarterback. As we moved into the fourth quarter Colin Kaepernick, who makes $600,000 a year, out played our MVP Aaron Rogers who touches north of $8 million dollars over the same span. I loves me some Aaron Rogers, but we flat out got smoked. By the end of the night we were down to four screens – just me and my three brothers - who glumly watched a charity touchdown scored by the Pack in the final minutes. Season over.  

The big winner of the night was Molly at Yale who completely ignored the Packer game and instead drew this.

At this point, it was 5:30 a.m. in Aix Les Bains and I had devoured a massive chunk of local Blue Cheese (purchased here) along with my bottle of 2010 Crozes-Hermitage. The Crozes-Hermitage is a dust-storm dry white, rumored to have a caffeinesque kick to it. Perfect for staying up late I thought.


I crawled into bed and confessed to my lovely companion Helene that I downed an entire bottle of Crozes  during the course of my 5+ hour digital odyssey and she has yet to forgive me. She’s not angry with the amount I drank or the quality of the bottle (it ain’t cheap!). She’s just appalled I would be drinking white wine after dinner. I mean who the hell does that?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Capitaine Crip Va à Dhaka

Pour mes amis français - un court-métrage (19 minutes) à propos de mon voyage à Dhaka. Images, des sons et même une émeute!

English Version

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Enculez la Bureaucratie!

With the Dalai Lama festivities in the rear view mirror it was time to get back to work on the List from Hell. I’d acquired everything needed for my Long Stay French visa so all I needed to do was present the paperwork in person to the French Embassy. There is a French office in Portland, but as far as I can tell, it’s staffed by three people who are hired for the express purpose of telling people they can’t offer any services.

I’d met the representative a few times when I worked for the Alliance Franciase de Portland and found her to be quite charming, if not a tad pompous with her official designation. I assumed they couldn’t have too much of a workload so I called them up asking them if they could help me process my visa application. After leaving three unreturned messages, I decided it would be in my best interest to knock on their door and see if anyone actually worked in the office.

When I showed up at the office a young woman came to meet me and apologized profusely for not returning my messages. This pissed me off even more since she’d heard all three messages and couldn’t once be bothered to, I don’t know, CALL ME BACK!

She then explained that the official representative of the consulate was out of town, but she could help me. Her idea of helping me was to give me completely incorrect information that would eventually make all my effort moot. She told me the office in Portland was just an adjunct office and I would have to appear in person at an official consulate with my mountain of paper work to apply for the Long Stay visa.

Not the answer I was looking for, but at least I knew what I had to do. Seeing as I was on my way to Charlottesville, only a two-hour drive from Washington D.C., I asked her if the Embassy could process my claim. “Yes,” she confidently replied. “Any of the major offices of the French government in the U.S. can handle your claim.”

I rolled out of the office and temporarily put the visa application on hold so I could concentrate on both the Portland Marathon and the gig in Charlottesville.

Before the lingering glow of the Tibetan music soiree dimmed and the hangover of the Kung Fu Fighting began, Michael, Mia and I were on our way to Washington D.C. for my 11:45 appointment with the French Embassy. Despite a 45-minute delay to deal with an incompetent copy store clerk (no, not a zitty-faced 16-year-old, but a 70-year-old moron who didn’t know how to push the ‘copy’ button on his machines) we made good time and were inside the beltway with a half hour to spare. Thanks to the advent of GPS we found the embassy on the northwest corner of Georgetown, which would have been a bitch of a task had we relied on the old paper directions method.

Looks easy - it wasn't. 

I hopped out of the car into my chair and presented my reservation to the guard at the gate who pointed me to the consular section. I entered the waiting room to find a line of mostly Africans fingering through reams of documents preparing for their audience with the French representative. Any one of these representatives could alter the path of their lives with a simple nod of their head and quick stamp of their passport.  My situation wasn’t nearly as desperate, but that same quick ‘yes’ could save me thousands of dollars and send me to France guilt-free for most of 2013.

To my surprise, my name was promptly called at 11:45 (last reservation of the week!) and I found myself face-to-face with a friendly young woman who was relieved to see me, as I had no children or business plan to present to her. Although I’m fluent in French, I learned years ago to speak English when dealing with French officials whose job it is to know English. Whereas you are much better off speaking French when trying to order a meal in Paris, speaking English at the consulate puts you in a power position. When they turn to their colleagues and speak in French, they don't realize you understand what they're saying. 

The woman looked over my paperwork, smiled and told me everything (All 22 pages of documents!!) was in order. All she needed was my passport and my proof of residency – which in my case was my Oregon Driver’s License. I looked at the clock which had not yet reached noon and thought to myself, in just a few minutes I’m going to be lunching at some hipster politico café in Georgetown with visa in hand waiting for Helene to wake up in Aix Les Bains to tell her the good news. Damn, these Frenchies are E-Fish-Ant!

The woman took one look at my driver’s license and shook her head. “I’m sorry Mr. Haig,” she said, “But you live in Oregon correct?

“Yes, that’s right. Oregon.”

“But that is in the Western District…”

“Yes, and…”

“And here we can only process applicants for the Eastern United States. You’ll have to go to your consulate -  in San Francisco.”

“But I don’t live in San Francisco – I live in Portland – that’s 600 miles away! It would be like telling you to drive to Chicago from here.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Haig, but we cannot verify your address from this location. They can only do that in San Francisco.
“Can we call San Francisco? Can we call the office in Portland – I’ve got their number on my phone. I was just there last week.”

“No sir, I’m sorry. We cannot process this here. You must go to San Francisco – but the good news is that your paperwork is in order and we have no reason to refuse you.”

“But I can’t go to San Francisco – I won’t even be home for two more weeks…”

With me still pleading, the window closed and the woman was off to calmly dejuner, probably at my hipster politico café in Georgetown, without the slightest pangs of guilt over what she’d just delivered me. It’s what French officials do. They give you shit – and loads of it – because they can.

This of course, was information the functionaire (derogatory French word for a government worker) in Portland could have relayed to me. Not only did she do nothing, she was actually incompetent at doing nothing.

Michael, Mia and I did eventually eat at a Georgetown hipster café (no West Wing politics being spoken – just RGIII talk) and we spent an excellent afternoon at the National Gallery adjacent to the Capitol building.

When we got back to Charlottesville, I went on line and scheduled ANOTHER visa appointment, this time in San Francisco just three days after I would get back home – which wouldn’t be for another ten days.  Flights were quite expensive so I planned on road-tripping down upon my return and hanging out with friends in the Bay Area for a few days before packing my bags for France.

When I finally got back to Portland, I found that SouthWest was having a huge sale and the prices dropped down to $125 round trip – much cheaper than gas plus wear and tear on my van.  I was just about to lay down my credit card number on a flight when I decided I’d better call the consulate in San Francisco and see if they had actually received my reservation. Although I’d signed up for the spot, I’d never received the confirmation letter needed to enter the building.

I called and waited and called and waited and left a message and called and waited and left a message on their English line then called and waited and waited and called then left a message on their French line then waited then called. Then I went to bed.

The next day I called and waited and called and waited and left a message and called and waited and left a message on their English line then called and waited and waited and called then left a message on their French line then waited then called and FINALLY – got a real person! Who put me on hold. Forever.  

But while the one line was on hold, I used another phone and this time found that same live person and finally got to ask them, “I just want to know if I’ve got an appointment or not? PLEASE!!”  

“Did you make it on line?”

“YES, YES! I made it on line!”

“Oh no – that system [the only one available] doesn’t work. Something with the computers. I can get you an appointment for Wednesday the twenty-first?”

Wednesday the twenty first was the day before Thanksgiving – which wouldn’t be that bad except that I would be leaving three days after Thanksgiving and the visa takes three weeks to process.

This time, I closed the window on them. I really wanted to slam down a receiver, but instead I was forced to angrily tap ‘end call’ on my Droid – which was about as satisfying as hooking a shrimp in a bass contest.

And now I sit in France on a short-stay visa knowing that I have to leave Europe at the end of February.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Captain Crip Goes to Dhaka

We're going to have to jump ahead a bit in the scenario, but I've been working on this short little film and I can't wait to show it. We'll get back to the regular blog as soon as I finish the French version of the film!

French Version

Captain Crip Goes to Dhaka